Tips and Tricks for Staying Sane During Remodeling

As I mentioned, this is our fourth major remodeling project on our current home. This includes:

  • new siding and windows
  • finishing the basement
  • remodeling the kitchen
  • our present project, remodeling the bathrooms

Here’s what we have learned to keep life (a little more) sane during remodeling.

Dust happens.

Dust happens.

1) Dust happens. Expect it. Plan for it. Deal with it. This is probably one of the most stressful parts of remodeling.

This means putting things away (wrapped and boxed) that you don’t want in the work area. If there’s going to be a lot of banging, consider taking larger mirrors and pictures off the wall in other parts of the house. (Yes. Really.) You’d be surprised how vibrations “telegraph” between floors and rooms. Better safe than sorry!

photo 4-7

Contractor-installed floor protection. Our air cleaner.

Once your things are moved out of the way, expect that the contractor will protect your floors, walls, rugs and fixtures. They should also install dust barriers. Some will be set up for the duration of the job. The rest will be “zipper doors” that allow workers to enter and exit the work area, but to keep dust from spreading as much as possible. Even with dust barriers and protection, there will be a LOT of mess and dust generated by remodeling, especially if you are doing any drywall work and painting.

Get a good air cleaner and run it continuously in your sleeping areas. We have found these to be essential for helping to trap some of the dust particles in the air. Be sure to clean the filter regularly!

When the job is done, thoroughly clean the area! Our present contractor hires a cleaning service to make sure things are cleaned properly. (It’s a wonderful perk of choosing them.)

photo 2-10 2) Contractors need space and time.

  • Plan ahead for where they will store materials and equipment. How will they have access to these materials?
  • Protect your furniture – our dressers and bedside table (pictured here) had two layers of pads on top to protect the finish from scratches. We then put a plastic tarp on top and taped it down with painter’s tape. Large flat surfaces are a convenient place for a contractor to set down tools. So…
  • Make it easy for them to work in the space. Get your things out of their way and stay out of their way!
  • Security: How will they enter and exit your home during construction? Who gets a key or garage door opener? Who are they allowed to give the key/opener to if they are not on site? (I strongly recommend changing the access code to your garage door after a construction job. It’s easy, and it safeguards everyone.) Get this in writing!
  • Agree on placement for the porta-potty and the dumpster. If you don’t tell them, they will choose a place that is most convenient for them.
  • Educate them on the requirements of your homeowners’ association or local municipality for construction projects, work hours, parking, etc. If you don’t know, ask! Some places are strict on noise before 8 a.m. and parking commercial vehicles. Find out before you (or your contractor) get fined.

3) You have to do your homework. BEFORE you sign a contract!

  • Check out the contractors you are considering carefully. Look them up on state and county websites, consumer review sites and licensing agencies. One bitchy comment won’t exclude them – but a pattern of comments and problems should. If there are “black marks” against a contractor on a vetted website (like Consumer’s Checkbook) be very cautious.
  • See a sample of the work that the contractor has done similar to what you need. Photos are OK, but actually taking the time to visit a home is better.
  • Call a couple of references. A question I always ask is, “How did you hear about this company?” (It is not always a good thing to find out “oh, they’re a friend.” You don’t know how unbiased their ratings really are.)
  • Learn what your requirements are for getting approval from any neighborhood associations or regulatory agencies. For instance, with our home, we have to file a plan with our homeowners’ association any time we are changing the appearance of the outside of our home (roof, siding, windows, etc.) If we ever put in a hot tub (a girl can dream!) we have to meet County regulations for fencing and run-off. There’s nothing sweeter than seeing that “PASSED” sticker on your electrical box.

4) You have to do your home “work.”

  • Be ready to go when they show up on the start date. If things need to be moved out of cabinets and closets, have it already done. (A mistake I made during our kitchen renovation was not getting the fridge emptied on time. They were gracious about it but it was an “oops” on my part.)
  • If you decide you will help prep an area for part of the work, do it according to their instructions. For instance, we had to tear out carpeting and some mirrored tile for one remodeling job before the flooring and painting contractors came. Then we had to thoroughly clean and prep the area. That was a dusty, smelly job, but we did it.
  • Be ready every day on time for the workers to enter your 1-15
  • Secure your pets ahead of time! Don’t expect that the contractor will catch your cats or put your dog in the yard. Also, clearly label where your pets are located so that they don’t open up the wrong door.

5) You need to safeguard the things that you want to protect.

  • Clothing. Bag it, box, it and move it out of the work area. Don’t think, “Oh, I’ll just go back in and get what I need every day.” Wrong! You need to treat the construction area as being off-limits.
  • Furniture. As I mentioned above, remove the smaller pieces and pad and cover the large ones.
  • Decor. Take pictures off of the walls. Pack away knick-knacks and books. They will be cleaner and safer.
  • Blinds and curtains: Take them down. If you are having painting done, consider removing the brackets (or accept that they will get paint or spackle on them.
  • Valuables: Seriously. Remove them from temptation. And the construction debris.

6) You will need to seriously de-clutter! Remodeling is the perfect time to do some sorting and purging of “stuff”. You don’t realize how much you have until you have to relocate it or move it. For many of us, this happens as things are moved back into the newly remodeled space. (I have an embarrassing amount of “stuff” that I donated to local charities.) Remodeling is also a time to consider what you “need”. When we remodeled our kitchen, I did a lot of sorting and repurposing. The same thing will happen when we move back into our newly remodeled bedroom and bathroom space.

7. Stick with your original plans as much as possible! Any changes to drawings that have been approved by your local authorities can require additional permits (expensive) and inspections (time-consuming!) If you work with your contractor in the planning and design phase, then you should have plans that you can run with and not change. Also be thoughtful about anything that adds to “scope creep.” It seems so simple to ask for “just one more thing” but it can change the timing and end date of your project.



8. Before you write that final check, make sure all inspections are done and all punch lists are agreed upon.

This has never been a problem for us, but it is important that you know what your rights are as far as the “punch list” items. You can, in some localities, hold back a small percentage of your final check until everything is complete. The most important item to see, though, is that “PASSED” inspection sticker. It means that you really have nothing to worry about and the job is done right.

9. Most important – keep communication lines open and be flexible.

We’re very lucky. We have a great design/build firm and a great lead carpenter. (THANK YOU, GEORGE!) But even so, it takes commitment and respect for the time and work that they do.

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